By Jan Fogt
When it comes to pleasing the boss, all the usual applies. Like keeping the boat clean and well maintained, keeping meticulous maintenance records, reigning in any bad behavior on the part of the crew, being prepared for travel and trips, tournaments, etc. In other words, when it comes to the boat, the secret to longevity on the job would seem to be to keep the boss’s life as hassle free as possible while watching out for the bottom line. As most captains will attest, if you can manage all of the above while taking care of fishing, you’ve got a job for life.
Yet we wondered, what else contributes to captain’s longevity in jobs lasting eight, ten, twelve and even 20 years. Capt. Gary Stuve, who has worked for a half dozen owners during his 40 odd year career in the business, believes he finally understands what it takes to keep a boss – or for that matter – anyone else happy. Consideration. And after he celebrated his twelfth year aboard the 58-foot Merritt Leslie Ann, for Stuve, a dozen years is more than just a milestone. It’s a record.
In a career that began in the late 1950s, working first for his father and then for owners Dinny Phipps, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, it’s the longest full-time job he’s ever held. “This is the only boat I’ve been on long enough to have to replace systems because they are wearing out. I love that the guy I work for values the boat as much as I do and wants to keep and maintain it,” he adds. His current owner is a high energy businessman who prefers worrying about the financial markets over what’s going on with the boat. The job has been one of Stuve’s all time favorite assignments not just because he has the authority to do what’s needed to manage the boat, but because the owner is a regular guy who is as passionate about fishing as Stuve is.
“The guy I work for never owned a big boat before, never pursued the kinds of fish I spent my career learning to catch, yet working for him has been a pleasure mostly because I enjoy his company and it’s been fun learning new techniques and skills guiding him on the flats.” For his part, Stuve introduced his employer to giant tuna fishing in North Carolina about ten years ago.
“He was so impressed he helped start the Tag a Giant (Tuna) program.”
Respect the Boss
When Stuve first went to work for his boss, they went months without talking. “At first I thought maybe he wasn’t so happy with me but as time passed and we got to know one another better, I realized he’s a busy guy who just wants me to run the show so I don’t bother him unless a repair or replacement goes above the alarm-ometer of what I consider to be fair value. For instance, if I have a choice of a navigation unit that costs $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000, that’s something we discuss the merits of, but if it’s a hundred dollar problem, I’ll make the call.”
What has been different with this owner compared to previous people he has worked for, said Stuve, is the respect and friendship that’s developed. We keep the boat behind his house near Jupiter (Florida). Because he does not live here full time, he has an overseer who takes care of the house. However, if I see something going on that needs attention, even though it’s not part of my job, I’ll jump in and take care of it. A few years ago when hurricane Wilma hit, the overseer already had taken down the hurricane shutters, so I got on the phone and told him he had to put them back up. The guy was too busy so I got a couple of guys together and we put them up. Mind you, I had my own house to board up and had plenty to do getting the boat to safe harbor, but that was something I did because I didn’t want his property getting torn up.”
Stuve also has surprised himself getting involved in areas he never thought he would. “I drink tea, but the boss is a coffee nut. One night I saw this piece on television about the world’s most expensive coffee, something that monkey’s eat and regurgitate. I got on the Internet and ordered a pound of it for him. Boy does he really love that monkey butt coffee! Another thing I do, that he seems to really appreciate, is when he’s here on his own, we have him over for dinner and conch fritters. That’s something I had not done with a boss before this.”
Capt. Bobby Brown is another veteran sportfishing captain who has mastered the secret to longevity in this business and according to Brown, it starts with the first interview. “It’s human nature to have ups and downs with people, but as a rule, I won’t accept a job with someone I don’t see myself enjoying spending time with. I’m not saying you have to become best friends, but up front, the question to ask is, is this someone you can enjoy working with for a long, long time.”
Brown also treats the boat like it’s his own. “My boss has a running joke with guests that if they don’t pick up after themselves, they’ll get “Bobby Demerits.” Honestly, I think he appreciates that I enjoy working on the boat, doing my own varnish, engine work and cleaning. At the same, we’re not fanatics. The boss likes to entertain on the boat so I’ll cook for them and try to plan trips and outings that are easy for him and guests to fly into and out of. This summer, we’re talking about doing some exploring down island in the Bahamas that will involve overnight anchorages, something I know he, his friends and family are going to enjoy. That’s really the secret to making a connection and doing a good job as a captain. You always want to be thinking about what he might enjoy, catering to his likes and dislikes.”
What the Boss Likes
From the owner’s perspective, what New Jersey native Hank Manley appreciates most about his current captain of nine years, Tony Haupt, “Is that he genuinely respects me and my wife and puts our needs and interests before his.” That’s not always the case with some captains, adds Manley. “I’ve been around boats and sportfishing since 1976 and have been fortunate to have fished with some incredible captains. But there are guys out there are who are more into competing against other captains than they are into responding to the owner’s fishing needs.” When Manley and his wife Gretchen first interviewed Haupt both were impressed by how sober and passionate he was about fishing. Overtime, they have been impressed by how attuned Haupt is to their interests.
“We fish as hard as anyone on the Escapade, but some days we don’t want to fish from dawn to dark catching sailfish or stripes. We like to mix things up. We enjoy diving. And we sometimes we just want to go flats fishing or wahoo fishing. One of the great things about Tony is his versatility and flexibility. Also, living aboard, he’s always the first to offer to help Gretchen cook dinner and clean up.”
Another thing Manley appreciates about his captain is his studious attention to the bottom line. “I was complaining about the cost of dockage in Cabo San Lucas, where the boat was going to be tied up for a few months before the striped marlin season started. Without me asking, Tony took the initiative and got a car and started looking around and found another marina in LaPaz that was much, much less expensive, saving us about $15,000. In these sensitive economic times, it’s great to have a captain looking out for your interests.”
Making the Connection
In terms of longevity, Capt. Karl Anderson figures he and his boss of more than 17 years, Mark O’Brien, have grown together in the fishing business. “The way I got the job was a bit of a fluke,” he said. “I first met Mark when I was working a season on the Great Barrier Reef for Capt. Peter B. Wright. When I moved to Stuart a few years later I happened to see his boat in one of the yards and called him to see if he might be looking for someone to caretaker it part-time. We’ve been together ever since.”
At first, said Anderson, it was just the two of them fishing the restored 37-foot Rybovich in places like Stuart and the Bahamas. But as the boats grew from 37 to a 45-foot Rybovich, to a 58-foot Merritt and soon, a 72-footer, “We’ve learned about boats, systems and engines.”
Unlike some owners, O’Brien is decidedly hands-on. “He is from the Florida West Coast where he grew up around fishing and boats much like I did coming from Beach Haven, N.J. That’s been something we have in common.”
Although O’Brien makes the decisions about systems and equipment to buy, he relies on Anderson to do the research. “During this process,” says Anderson, “we’ve developed a mutual respect. And that has stood us in good stead,” he adds. “My deal with Mark is a bit different from the average deal. I’ve never been a salaried employee. I invoice my hours, which has always worked well for both of us. As many people know, I write articles for magazines and shoot television shows and for a while I even managed Sea Craft Boats for Johnny Morris, while I was working for Mark. Of course, we always had good crew helping out, but in my 18 years with Mark, the thing I’ve been most proud of, is never having lost a day of fishing because of mechanical problems. We do whatever is necessary to make sure the boat is ready to fish when Mark arrives and that’s something as a boater, he’s always been appreciative about.”
Scott Levin first met his employers of 13 years when he was working as a mate for Capt. Peter B. Wright on the Great Barrier Reef. During the week that Rich and Christie Andrews were fishing, they forged a friendship that resulted in their staying in touch and joining Levin on future charter fishing assignments in places like Madeira and South America and spending time with them in their Colorado home. “We truly were friends first and boss and captain second,” explains Levin.
“From my own personal experience,” said Levin, “I would have to say the compatibility and friendship I share with Rich has led to our longevity. Beyond fishing, we share the same kinds of hobbies and that’s helped us become friends.”
“There are basically two different relationships between owners and captains,” said Levin. “The kind where the employer wants a strictly business relationship with his captain and you don’t mix and mingle with the crew, and the kind that Rich and I have. I know captains who have had long successful runs doing it both ways, but for me, working for someone I respect as much as I do Rich and Christie, who I think in turn, share similar feelings about me, has made this job such a pleasure, it doesn’t even feel like work.”